Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle McIlveen today welcomed Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom to Northern Ireland for a day of engagements focused on the agri-food sector.
Andrea Leadsom, who is Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, met farmers, processors and agri-food industry representatives to discuss the impact of, and the opportunities that will arise from, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.
The Ministers’ first engagement was to the Comber farm of James and Biffy Booth. Trading as DF Dunlop and Partners, the Booths run a 220-hectare business farming beef and vegetables.
The two Ministers then moved on to Lakeland Dairies in Newtownards where they were joined by Economy Minister Simon Hamilton for a tour of the family-owned co-operative which collects milk from over 2,200 family farms and is one of the largest on the island of Ireland.
Michelle McIlveen said: “I was delighted to welcome Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Andrea Leadsom to Northern Ireland. I was proud to showcase a couple of our many great producers and processors who are at the heart of our agri-food industry.
“Future trade and support arrangements are going to be extremely important. Rather than contemplating the possibility of new barriers to trade, we should be striving to retain current access arrangements in the short term and create new export opportunities in the longer term. A significant amount of work is under way to progress my priorities which are to ensure we replace the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy with appropriate frameworks that underpin the sustainable growth and competitiveness of our sectors and to safeguard our continued ability to trade effectively.
“That is why it was important that I was able to emphasise to the Secretary of State that our agri-food sector is much more central to our local economy than is the case in other parts of the country.
“The Executive’s aim is to promote a sustainable, competitive, high-performing, knowledge-based agri-food sector that is prosperous and compliant. That means the sector will be more resilient to shocks and challenges; it will have higher standards of animal health and welfare; it will deliver better for the environment; and have increased market access for agri-food products.”
Later the Ministers also met with the joint Brexit Consultative Committee which was set up by DAERA and the Department for the Economy to provide a means of engaging closely with key sectoral representatives.
Miss McIlveen added: “It is important to get a view from the industry and that is why I felt it was valuable that the Secretary of State had the opportunity to hear from representatives of agri-food and fisheries bodies, farming unions, trade bodies and environmental stakeholders on the Brexit Consultative Committee.”
Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Food and drink is the leading sector in the Northern Ireland economy, employing tens of thousands of people and generating around £5billion from food sales alone this year.
“I was very pleased to meet with Ministers Michelle McIlveen and Simon Hamilton, with farmers and with the Joint Brexit Consultative Committee today. Throughout the process of preparing the UK to leave the EU we will work with all the devolved administrations so the interests of every part of the country are properly taken into account. Their knowledge and experience will be vital in helping draw up our plans.
“Leaving the EU will be a new chapter, and there will be challenges, but there are also huge opportunities. We are determined to get the best deal possible and deliver a thriving future for our important food and farming industry that is profitable, innovative and resilient.”
Economy Minister Simon Hamilton said: “This continuing engagement with the agri-food sector is hugely important as we embark on a new path for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. This sector is at the heart of our economy and it is therefore crucial that we keep all channels of communication open with them at this time of significant change. I truly believe there are many opportunities ahead of us and I am determined to work with all concerned as we shape our future globally competitive economy.”